TypeCon lagniappe: Civilized pleasures & papery treasures in the Big Easy


[Alyson Kuhn] A lagniappe (lan-YAP) is a little something extra given to a customer. The term “gift with purchase” is more common but less charming. The lagniappe concept is popular in New Orleans, where _blank”>TypeCon — the Society of Typographic Aficionados’ annual conference — convenes this week in the French Quarter. We’d like to offer attendees and armchair travelers a trio of touring tips suggested by artist Michael Deas, whose recent envelope to me (shown above) came as a lagniappe extraordinaire.

Papier Plume is on the ground floor of the landmark Thomas Porée house.

Michael Deas shops for pens and ink — including the supplies used to address my envelope — at Papier Plume (842 Royal Street, at the corner of Dumaine). The building’s ground floor was erected for Juan Laporte in 1789 during the Spanish Colonial period, replacing an older French Colonial residence. The building’s second floor — now a single apartment — was added in 1807.

Patrick Rideau inside the shop

Partners Patrick Rideau and Robin Owens opened their brick-and-mortar shop four years ago. Prior to that, they traveled to art fairs and craft markets, selling leatherbound journals, pens and seals. Rideau does not consider himself a calligrapher, but his affinity for pens dates back to his childhood in France, where he was taught proper Copperplate script in school. Today, Owens frequently asks him to demonstrate a particular pen for a prospective buyer.

The shop’s journals and other leather goods come from artisans in Europe and the U.S.

Papier Plume carries a wide range of modern writing implements: ballpoints, roller-balls, fountain pens. For calligraphers, they offer dipping pens, which is to say old-fashioned quills … and contemporary inkwells. Rideau comments, “We always want to exceed the service given, so we offer customers a free refill or a little test bottle of ink to thank them for doing business with us.”

Papier Plume’s extensive selection of quills is a great resource for lovers of letters.

Rideau concludes, “We always say ‘lagniappe’ when we are offering one. If someone opens big eyes and seems to have a question mark, we explain. We want them to understand. It’s local, and it’s Southern. You know that we have a weekly newspaper called Lagniappe?” I didn’t, but now I do. It’s the special Friday section in the city’s only daily newspaper, The Times Picayune.

For a restorative beverage, Deas recommends a refreshing Pimm’s Cup at the historic (we’re talking 1797) Napoleon House. (Enjoy a video here and read about the recently published eponymous book here … but you can’t actually drink there until Bastille Day, as the restaurant and bar are currently closed for vacation.) Deas suggests two backup bars for TypeCon-goers: “The Columns Hotel is halfway uptown, but it’s a majestic old mansion with an untouched, turn-of-the-century bar. Like stepping back in time. The front porch is a good place to have a cool drink and watch the streetcars roll by. For those who can remember it, the Louis Malle movie Pretty Baby was filmed inside. There’s also a place in the French Quarter on Decatur called Pravda that’s good for a quiet drink — pretty low-key, with a nice patio, and they specialize in absinthe.”

Several signs brighten the sidewalk in front of Mystic Blue Signs.

Deas’ other must-see is Mystic Blue Signs (2212 Magazine Street) for “fabulous stuff — hand-lettered signs, big and small, done the old-fashioned way, with enamel paints and such applied by hand. Very classic stuff, and the co-owner Yvette Rutledge is an extraordinary calligrapher — quite famous in her own right.” Rutledge is the self-professed “analog partner,” and her husband, Vince Mitchell, is the “digital partner.” The twosome design and fabricate signs; Rutledge also hand-engraves jewelry.

The store name is lettered in gold leaf applied directly to the glass.

Mitchell built an informative and evocative site for the multifaceted enterprise, amusingly crediting Espèce d’Idiot Productions for the design. You can’t see individual signs on the site (yet), but the slideshow of signage details on the home page is what I’d call eye bonbon extraordinaire. Coincident with TypeCon, the shop is hosting Graver to Press, an exhibition of hand-engraved printing on loan from the collection of Nancy Sharon Collins (a.k.a. The Engraving Lady) through August 16. And Rutledge is on the speaker roster for TypeCon (Saturday morning, July 9, bright and early). Her talk is titled “Analog Dialog/Painting signs in New Orleans.”

Images on the postcard courtesy of Richard Sheaff and Mike Bean; lettering by Yvette Rutledge

Magazine Street runs parallel to the Mississippi River for several miles. It is home to a succession of eclectic shops, many of them with photogenic hanging or sidewalk signs. Here’s how Rutledge spontaneously describes Mystic Blue’s neighborhood: “Magazine is a long street of quirky little businesses, people who make things, boutiques that are for the locals rather than for tourists. We, for example, could not do business in the French Quarter because nobody could park. Imagine people trying to load their signs! Here we have open parking free to the public. From the French Quarter, you can take the Magazine Street bus — Magazine starts at Canal Street. The first sign (yes, Yvette actually said “sign”) of serious commercial business is the Shop of the Two Sisters (1800 Magazine Street, at Felicity). In that block you also have the studio of internationally known Thomas Mann Jewelry. We are a four-block walk from there.”

Vince Mitchell fabricating a sign in the studio at Mystic Blue

If you take the Magazine Street bus, Rutledge recommends the stop in front of Harkins the Florist (1601 Magazine Street) as your hopping-off (or back-on) point. If you hit Harkins’ as your last retail stop, you can pick up a “cash-and-carry bunch” for your room or your hostess. Harkins’ approach to arrangements is a treat just to read.

Artist proof of an alphabet engraved by Yvette Rutledge on a copper plate

Rutledge continues: “In the block before us, there’s Bush Antiques [2109 Magazine]. We didn’t do their sign, but it’s well worth seeing. And for a quick snack, there’s Juan’s Flying Burrito. After our shop, there are a couple of blocks that are still residential, and then many more blocks of shops. The neighborhood is not as piercing-and-tattoo oriented as it was 20 years ago but retains that element. The Starbuck’s is a recent addition, a sign of gentrification. Neophobia is a wonderful interior design resource — I don’t think they have anything newer than 1970. And, if you’re getting hungry, there’s food along this stretch, all the way up to Louisiana Avenue … though Magazine Street continues for another three miles, ending by Audubon Zoo at the River. Oh! And La Divina Gelateria! [3005 Magazine Street].” Let the good times scroll!

Michael Deas’ portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, commissioned by the USPS for a 2009 stamp, was also reproduced in the limited-edition Raven book.

The envelope from Michael Deas shown at the top of this post contained a copy of the book shown at the bottom of this post, inscribed by the artist. Deas is also the artist of the portraits of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark for the stamps (2004) on the envelope.


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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Julie Salestrom on 07.13.11 at 9:34 pm

    Wonderful piece! I want to be teleported to New Orleans immediately!

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